Tuesday, July 30, 2002
By KRISTIN DIZON
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
The fastest skaters will clock an hour and 20 minutes or so to cover the 24.7 miles of the Seattle Skate for Multiple Sclerosis.
Seanna Vivion-Baker wonders whether she will finish at all, though she is attempting the half-distance of the wheeled marathon, or 12 miles. She worries that her strength will be sapped by the sun, which has affected her greatly since she was diagnosed with MS.
Last year, she tried to skate the event but was overcome by the heat. This year she's hoping for an overcast day and mild temperatures.
Vivion-Baker is one of just two skaters with MS who have entered the event so far. More than 400 skaters are expected to roll at the Seattle Skate for MS, the largest such skating event in the Northwest. It benefits the Multiple Sclerosis Association of King County, whose services reach more than 7,000 people in this area.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system. The body's immune system -- which normally protects against infection -- attacks its own central nervous system.
The symptoms, which are diverse and vary in intensity, include vision loss, paralysis, numbness, spasms, walking difficulties, speech problems, fatigue, headaches and hearing loss.
The disease also is unpredictable, and symptoms range from moderate to debilitating.
MS is most likely to occur to a white woman in her 20s or 30s. It affects people in Washington state at a rate twice the national average.
Vivion-Baker, 33, fits that general profile. One day in April 2001, she was fine. The next day she had a series of spastic seizures. Her left hand curled up, her left leg folded and her foot dragged. The left side of her face sloped and she had a hard time speaking.
She was rushed to the hospital and her symptoms became worse for nearly a month. She had 150 seizures in one day, each lasting 10 to 30 seconds.
When she was diagnosed with MS, she started a medication that slows the disease and she hasn't had a symptom since then. Except that Vivion-Baker, a real estate agent who lives in Monroe, now is often tired and is particularly drained on hot days.
"I can be kicking and raring to go one day and wake up the next day and be flat on my back," she said.
Rather than being angry or gloomy about having MS, Vivion-Baker is living life to the fullest, making sure she never says, "Gosh, I wish I would have ..."
She is eating better than ever and is more focused on her health.
And she appreciates family and friends and doesn't worry about the little things anymore, the things that she can't control.
"I don't have cancer. I don't have Lou Gehrig's disease. I don't have AIDS. This is not terminal," Vivion-Baker said. "I have something that's life-affecting, not life-ending."
Her goal in the skate isn't to be fast. It's simply to finish and have a good time.
It was little more than a year ago that Vivion-Baker learned to skate -- because someone had told her about the Seattle Skate for MS. The first time she laced up the skates was not a charm.
"I didn't know how to brake. I was going downhill and coming to an intersection," she said. "I tried to stop by grabbing a parking meter and I bounced off of it."
She landed on her backside and thought she'd return the skates to the rental store and be done with it. But a friend encouraged her to dust herself off and give those eight smooth wheels another chance.
Now she tries to skate three to five times a week, all in preparation for the Seattle Skate for MS.
"I still don't know how to stop really well," said Vivion-Baker with a laugh. "My version of stopping is running into something, or falling."
And that's the good news: Even people with basic skills can participate in this skate, said its coordinator, Trish Alexander. She added that every year about 30 percent of the registrants have never done anything like it and haven't trained, yet most of them finish.
"You just put one skate in front of the other. That's all it is," said Alexander, a paralegal and a skating instructor. "It's the most empowering thing people can do if they can't run a marathon. It's an awesome, wonderful feeling."
Participants have four hours to skate the full 24.7 miles or the half-distance of 12 miles from Tracy Owen Station Park in Kenmore. There are three water and juice stops along the course, which is open to the public during the event. Members of the National Skate Patrol wheel along with the last skaters.
Prizes go not to the fastest skaters but to those who raise the most pledge money.
Jamie Kahn won't be one of the faster skaters, and she hasn't yet started soliciting pledges, but she has determination to spare.
Diagnosed with MS three years ago, just as she was graduating from college, Kahn sometimes has blurry vision when her optic nerves inflame. That happened to her at last year's Seattle Skate for MS, but she pressed on to the finish line.
"I push myself harder now," said Kahn, 25, of Redmond. "I feel that I want to accomplish these things. I think I'm more driven because of the MS."
Skating is Kahn's passion and she plans to skate the entire 24.7 miles.
"I do it for the love of doing it," Kahn said. "I'm not letting MS hold me back."
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